Panic in the Temple of Darwin?

A friend forwarded a link to an article on Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog titled Two Irreconcilable Worldviews. I would note, incidentally, that Dr. Mohler’s blog doesn’t allow commenting, a practice I deplore. Nonetheless, in his position I imagine it is to be expected.

There are so many things I could comment on in this post. The first is the use of the term “worldview.” “Worldview” has become a shorthand way of referring to one’s complete view of life, the universe, and everything. It is an unnuanced approach to information. There are some appropriate and valuable uses of it, but in general I think it merely simplifies something that is complex, and thus misrepresents it. As a moderate, I tend not to like large packages. I’d prefer to pick my own viewpoints, thank you!

Now if Dr. Mohler said merely that evolution was irreconcilable with Southern Baptist theology, I would have little problem. The Southern Baptist convention has done a good job of pushing moderates and liberals to go elsewhere, and thus it is very likely that evolution cannot be reconciled with what is left, though there are some who would differ. And it’s their denomination, not mine, so I shouldn’t try to tell them who is in and who is out.

But Dr. Mohler feels free to make that same sort of comment with regard to mainline Christians. Now I fit into the “mainline protestant” category fairly well. I also have to confess that there is a good deal of confusion amongst mainliners with regard to just what we believe. At least there’s confusion amongst the few who think about it. I was shocked when I joined a United Methodist congregation just how few even knew what the doctrinal stands of their denomination actually were. I was asked by my pastor after I had been Methodist for only a year, to teach a class on the doctrine of Christian perfection. Now this doctrine is in the Methodist Book of Discipline. I expected people to argue about it or at least to have questions. On the first day of the class, however, I found that only the pastor and I were aware that there actually was such a thing.

When you go further afield into things that are only in resolutions or in general consensus of opinion, it’s not surprising that people truly don’t go deep into the theological implications of what they believe. But many mainline theologians have done so, and they have found that their faith and the theory of evolution are not irreconcilable at all. I would urge mainliners to actually read up on some of the theology. There’s John Haught’s God After Darwin, Howard J. Van Till’s The Fourth Day, the evangelical Dr. Richard Colling’s Random Designer, on which I blogged here some time ago. From a scientists perspective, yet still theologically aware, we have Dr. Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. And I’ve only touched the surface. I’m sure someone will mention a really good book in the comments and I’ll think: “I should have thought of that!”

But the part that struck me the most about this blog is the ending:

Tellingly, Michael Zimmerman sees the public status of evolutionary theory endangered by the fact that so many Christians resist the theory. As he admits, “I believe that most people, if forced to choose between religion and evolution, will select religion.” He is right, of course — and that is why there is such panic in the temple of Darwin.

There are so many problems with this. First, we have the inability of a religious leader to see the difference between a scientific theory and a religious institution such as a denomination. “Panic in the temple” is when a bunch of United Methodists get around and start talking membership loss statistics. The concern is for our community and how it functions and grows. A scientific theory, on the other hand, is and must be constantly under examination. Every time a scientists in a relevant field collects experimental data, whether he is digging up fossils, or culturing bacteria in the lab, the theory of evolution is there to be challenged. The fact that it keeps coming back confirmed, merely tells us how valuable it is. But note at the same time that it has been modified any number of times to meet new challenges. Unlike a denomination, however, all the scientists would remain scientists were the current theory of evolution overturned. They would merely have to adjust their theoretical framework. Yes, it would take a long time. It should take a long time for such a shift.

Second, is there any panic involved? In the United States there is certainly a high level of concern. I’m highly concerned when I see that a narrow majority of the people in my state, 45%-43% (see poll) reject a thoroughly confirmed scientific theory, and that quite a number of those who accept it think it’s not all that well confirmed. Why is this? Would I be disturbed because a favorite theory of mine is not accepted? (Remember that I have been fascinated by the debate over creation and evolution since I was a child, even though I accepted young earth creation until I was in college.) Actually it concerns me only because we need science to solve many of our technical problems.

So when Dr. Mohler seems to suggest that it’s a good thing when people choose religion over science, I have to question his good judgment. It sounds to me much like a carpenter rejecting his hammer in favor of his saw.

Consider global warming. My faith and ethics tell me that while I put people first, people need a world in which to live, so I must be careful. Religion cannot tell me whether we are suffering from global warming or cooling, or how much of that effect is due to man-made emissions, or what is the best strategy to deal with whatever it is. Only science can do that.

Consider biotechnology. Science can discover how to create various genetically engineered products, and what they might be useful for. I go to my faith to see just how I should apply these things to my real world. (I do not mean here to put down those who would prefer a humanist ethics to faith. I’m speaking for myself.)

And biotechnology is closely tied to evolutionary theory. If we want to have a solid idea of what is going on in these areas, we will have to understand evolutionary theory. Our children will have to understand it. Despite desperate efforts to claim otherwise, evolutionary theory is foundational in biology, with an impact that extends into our everyday lives through advances in medicine. If we want to understand and continue to advance in medicine, we will need to understand this.

There is indeed cause for concern amongst those who support science. Science education has lagged for two long in this country. It is that weakness in scientific education that has permitted the current situation to exist.

But I think there is, perhaps, more of a panic in the halls of religion. As a Christian this concerns me substantially. More and more young people are turning away from the church and from traditional religion. There is a certain panic amongst religious leaders as they see this happening. They are afraid that morality will slip away at the same time.

There is a time to take a moral stand, but when you do so, you have to do so on the right side. To take a stand against the theory of evolution right now as a moral issue is to take a stand on the wrong side of history. Religion can be severely impaired should we choose at this moment to try to force people either to avoid education in this topic, or to ignore the evidence in front of them. I believe that evidence is strong, and that to force this issue over the next decade or so will result in more and more brilliant young people leaving the church. They will do so not because they cannot accept Christian morality. In fact, many of them will have firmer moral principles than us older folks. They will do so because they will refuse to regard it as right to ignore clear and overwhelming evidence.

I hope that Dr. Mohler’s choice is not the one presented, because I think if we present this as two worldviews, then no matter which one chooses he or she will be terribly impoverished. My firm choice is both.

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One Comment

  1. Exactly. In fact, a Christian “worldview” ought to counsel us to consider what we learn from “general revelation” as part of what God has disclosed to us.

    Sigh. Double Sigh.

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